MEXICO CITY -- State security forces in Mexico have participated in the kidnappings and disappearances of a large number of missing citizens, and the government's failure to investigate most cases only compounds the atrocity, a new human rights report alleged Wednesday.
The comprehensive report by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch presents a scathing indictment of the administration of former President Felipe Calderon, who left office Dec. 1. However, it also poses urgent challenges for his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto.
Against the backdrop of a military-led offensive on powerful drug-trafficking cartels, an estimated 70,000 people were killed during Calderon's six-year term, according to authorities and media reports. Thousands more -- possibly as many as 20,000 -- disappeared, never to be heard from again.
The missing represent what Human Rights Watch called a festering unknown that causes enduring anguish for the families.
Many were kidnapped by drug gangs, but all state security branches, including the military and federal and local police, are also accused of "enforced disappearances" of many victims, Human Rights Watch said. The government ignored the problem, failed to take steps to stop it and often blamed the victims, the report said.
"The result was the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades," Human Rights Watch said.
The 176-page report corroborates reporting by the Los Angeles Times and stacks of complaints filed by families of the missing in almost every state of the republic.
There was no immediate comment on the report from officials with the current or former government.
"What sets these crimes apart is that, for as long as the fate of the victim remains unknown, they are ongoing," the report said. "Each day that passes is another that authorities have failed to find victims, and another day that families continue to suffer the anguish of not knowing what happened to a loved one."
Human Rights Watch focused on 249 cases of men and women who had gone missing since 2006. In slightly more than half, or 149 cases, state security forces were responsible for the disappearance by participating "directly in the crime, or indirectly through support or acquiescence," the report said.
The findings were based on interviews with witnesses, families and authorities as well as documents and other material.
In several particularly chilling examples, authorities kidnapped the victims and then turned them over to drug gangs or other criminal networks, the report said.
Human Rights Watch said the cases examined were a small sample and that "there is no question that there are thousands more."
Atty. Gen. Jesus Murillo Karam said late last year that there were "thousands" of people who disappeared on Calderon's watch. A list compiled by the attorney general's office during the Calderon administration, based on reports filed across the country, gave a total of around 20,000 missing people.
The list was never released to the public but was made available to The Times last year.